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6 January 2022

Mercedes concept car wants to keep us all happy – but it’s not an SUV

If the latest Mercedes EV experiment was a politician, it would likely win the next election, any election – it appeals to vegans, climate change rebels, the anti-landfill brigade and although it looks like a modern sports saloon, it is designed to use 95% of its battery energy propelling it forward. In all those measures it is a triumph. In other areas it is not so great, because it’s down to the details.

The car is called the Vision EQXX – and it is really more concept car than for real. If there was a trend for more people to buy sports cars (see pic below) then it would be fine, but right now almost all the gains in CO2 from electric cars are taken up by a tendency for more people in the US and Western Europe in particular, driving SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles), which are diametrically opposite.

So while the headline is that this car has up to a 620 mile charge range, which amounts to an energy density of some 400 Wh/kg, significantly better than all existing standard EVs (slightly ahead even than the Lucid Air), it is not out of reach for most car designers in the next 3 to 4 years, especially as solid state lithium ion batteries arrive in volume. It has a dedicated freshly built battery management system.

This energy density improvement comes in part from progress in the chemistry of the anodes with a higher silicon content so they can hold more energy than other more expensive anodes. There is also a lot higher level of integration in the battery pack with an overall reduced weight and all the electrical components built into a single framework called the OneBox.

The worrying thing is that while in a concept car you can “throw the kitchen sink at it,” in terms of improvements, only a few of those are likely to make it into any works car design that is available to sell to the general public. What would be the point of designing a sports saloon, when everyone then buys an SUV or a Rivian or the F-150 Lightning?

The biggest issue at the heart of this is whether the constant search to salve range anxiety in electric vehicles outweighs the current trend among drivers to wants to sit high above the traffic, in a car that is not aerodynamic, and which is 4 times too big for one person, which everyone has trouble parking, and which burns 30% to 40% more petrol – the SUV.

But let’s not let that get in the way of the considerable innovation that Mercedes has brought into a single car design.

The battery is supplied by Chinese battery supplier CATL, it is claimed to be “50% the size” of existing Mercedes designs and 35% lighter, at 495 kg, out of total car weight of 1,750 kg.

The car has come out of the Mercedes Formula One team with help from a variety of start-ups, partners and institutions.

The first step is a new drivetrain which the company claims delivers 95% of battery held energy to powering the wheels, the car has extra solar cells on the roof, which Mercedes claims adds 25 km to the range, but in actual fact this energy is used to power the internal lights and the entertainment system, via another battery, so it’s just not a drag on the main batteries.

The outside design was finished off using 3D printing, to produce the lowest drag co-efficient possible, it has aluminum brake pads, because they are lighter, but they may also wear out more rapidly.

The battery lid is made from a  sustainable composite material derived from sugar-cane waste, reinforced with carbon fiber. The battery also features cell balancing, so it draws energy evenly from all cells in the car.

There is an advanced thermal-management system which preserves thermal energy, with the cooling plate under the car, which also cools the drive unit directly, and the car uses a heat pump to turn any heat back into power or directs it to making the interior warm in cold weather; it has low resistance tires with an aerodynamic side profile.

The car seats are made of a type of vegan leather made with a sustainable cactus-based biomaterial and its carpets are made from bamboo fiber, its the internal plastics from household and municipal landfill waste. This is supplied by UBQ Materials, which it says is in the verge of using landfill for bulk supply within the car industry.

The body is low carbon steel produced with 100% of scrap, using an electric-arc furnace, driven by renewable energy.

And it claims to use neuromorphic computing, where it processes all software functions during spikes of neural network activity – reducing energy consumption by an order of magnitude.

The company worked with California’s BrainChip to run AI apps and it already has its Akida system where you can just call out “Hey Mercedes” and ask it questions, like Alexa.

As we say all of this is very well, but these are all mere experiments, and no-one knows how much of this will end up in a genuine for sale volume Mercedes car. It does paint Mercedes management is a totally different light form other German car-makers though.

What is impressive is that Mercedes gave this project enough resources so that it went from white paper to completed vehicle in just 18 months, so at least it looks committed.